Current Clinical Practice

Risk Stratification in Differentiated Thyroid Cancer: An Ongoing Process

Gal Omry-Orbach


Thyroid cancer is an increasingly common malignancy, with a rapidly rising prevalence worldwide. The social and economic ramifications of the increase in thyroid cancer are multiple. Though mortality from thyroid cancer is low, and most patients will do well, the risk of recurrence is not insignificant, up to 30%. Therefore, it is important to accurately identify those patients who are more or less likely to be burdened by their disease over years and tailor their treatment plan accordingly. The goal of risk stratification is to do just that. The risk stratification process generally starts post-operatively with histopathologic staging, based on AJCC/UICC staging system as well as others designed to predict mortality. These do not, however, accurately assess the risk of recurrence/persistence. Patients initially considered to be at high risk may ultimately do very well yet be burdened by frequent unnecessary monitoring. Conversely, patients initially thought to be low risk, may not respond to their initial treatment as expected and if left unmonitored, may have higher morbidity. The concept of risk-adaptive management has been adopted, with an understanding that risk stratification for differentiated thyroid cancer is dynamic and ongoing. A multitude of variables not included in AJCC/UICC staging are used initially to classify patients as low-, intermediate-, or high-risk for recurrence. Over the course of time, a response to therapy variable is incorporated and patients essentially undergo re-risk stratification. Additional tools such as biochemical markers, genetic mutations and molecular markers have been added to this complex risk stratification process such that this is essentially a continuum of risk. In recent years, additional considerations have been discussed with a suggestion of pre-operative risk stratification based on certain clinical and/or biologic characteristics. With the increasing prevalence of thyroid cancer but stable mortality, this risk stratification may identify those in whom the risk of conventional surgical treatment may outweigh the benefit. This review aims to outline the process of risk stratification and highlight the important concepts that are involved and those that are continuously evolving.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2016;7(1):e0003